Onwards…

a few words of a kind…

Archive for the tag “SAn Francisco Irish”

Another Leaving…

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My bags aren’t packed and I’m not ready to go. It’s my last few days in Ireland and autumn is slipping in. It’s my favourite time here, the country feels settled, tourists have mostly flown and Ireland has come back to her own —— the home boys and girls. We seem to be more Irish, more ourselves. There’s talk in Gerry O’Donoghue’s butcher shop about hurling and greyhounds. In Paddy Burke’s farmer’s store down the street, conversation is about how Arab stallions have destroyed the true breed of the Irish draft mare and the Connemara pony. A Saudi sheik is mentioned as the culprit.

“Longer bones and taller horses make anxious prima donas,” Mr. Burke sighs.

In Keane’s hardware shop the talk is about how the scarcity of mackerel this year.           
“They’ll be in with the next full moon,” Brenda the shop assistant predicts.

Friends are texting about meeting up. I’ve just done an interview for the Limerick Leader newspaper and my mate Gerry is coming over to record me doing a voice over/intro to Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ for his radio show…maybe put down some spoken word. Time is tight. But it’s a beautiful evening and I go outside and sit in the sun, make another to-do list. JP pulls up in his black BMW and hops over the wall, no gates or gaps for this boy. He’s on the way to a gig and gasping for a cup of coffee. We drink java in the sun and catch-up on music and love. Then he’s off to a ceili in Kerry.

When JP leaves, I tidy up the living room to get ready for the recording. To set the atmosphere, I light a fire. Cool as a breeze, a robin flits into the room and I wonder if it’s a sign that I’ll win the Lotto. The Christmas bird perches on the back of a súgan chair and looks at me for a few seconds, then takes flight and collides with a cluster of metallic wind chimes. Poor bird does a panicked few loops around the room and flies out the door to Ireland. One of Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’?

Gerry arrives and we get the work done and chat. There’s a text about doing something at the Electric Picnic next weekend. Sorry, I’ll be gone. That’s life. Things always rev up when I’m preparing to leave. I wonder how many more times I’ll make these transatlantic trips. I’m an emigrant whose soul never leaves Ireland. But the body has to travel for work.

Photo 4

One night before I left, I had dinner at home with my daughter Róisin. Afterwards, we sat by the fire and chatted about many things. Then she said,

“Dad, does it get harder to go back as the years roll on?”

I had never thought about that before and after a few seconds, I nodded and looked at the fire. There were no words for the pain that followed the realisation. She hugged me and said she’ll miss me loads. I nodded but couldn’t stem my tears.

There’s a text from Aindrias. He can go to the studio on Monday afternoon and lay a few tracks for the spoken word experiment. Time is tight. The bags aren’t packed and time is tight. We settle on just having dinner instead. After that I won’t see him until next summer. It’s time to bite the bullet, get back to packing and find that passport with the golden harp.

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HEADS: Good Intentions…(novel extract)

Heads, my novel, was published a few days ago for Kindle, iPhone, iPad and other reading devices. It’s about the adventures of an Irish artist and his comrades in California. The first thousand words or so of it are below. Download more via the links at the end. You can read the complete novel on your computer with the free Kindle app. Heads costs $2.99 to download.



Attacked by a priest — an Irish priest — in broad daylight, in a pub in Berkeley. Jazz cowered in the back of a taxi, his painter’s overalls were ripped, his face hurt and the inside of his mouth stung and tasted of blood. The taxi was taking him to San Francisco, trundling down San Pablo Avenue in the early evening traffic. It was sunny, tee-shirt weather, but he was cold, shivering, hunkered down in the middle of the back seat, glancing at the doors to make sure they were locked. That priest could pounce again. He should never have had anything to do with him.

Jazz

His first impression was that the man was a basket case, or at least not the full shilling. That was the day Jazz and his roommate Kirby came over to the Berkeley Flea market from San Francisco. That was a few months ago, a sunny March Sunday, warm as summer. Flowers bloomed everywhere and young women smiled at them. Jazz even remarked that it was a special kind of a day. As they walked across Ashby intersection, a vehicle hooted and the driver waved. They saw ‘Church of the Sacred Heart’ emblazoned on the door of the red minibus and Kirby said, “It’s Father Ned.”

A younger Fr. Ned

The van pulled over and Kirby introduced Jazz to a middle-aged Irish priest in a white t-shirt and black Ché beret, which had a little silver cross instead of the star. An older Irishman named Tiny Ford accompanied Fr. Ned. They all shook hands, spoke about the glorious weather and Irish affairs. Jazz read ‘God is Good!’ on Ned’s t-shirt. Kirby admired the transporter and the priest joked that the only way he could get his flock to participate in parish affairs — from church to cemetery — was to bus them there himself.

“The cattle truck I call it,” said Tiny, dabbing sweat from his neck, “Christ lads, but ’tis very warm.”

“It’s a full-time job,” said Father Ned, adjusting his beret, “and I’m kind of rebuilding the parish up again…I’m afraid my predecessor went overboard here and there.”

“A terrible man,” muttered Tiny.

“Very sad,” Ned sighed, “he had a new church almost finished and everything. Beautiful job, spectacular…and then scandal broke. Funds dried up…so I’m trying to build things from the ground again. But I’m afraid we lost a lot of good people.”

“It cost us a fortune,” whispered Tiny and the priest muttered,
“That’s enough Tiny.”

“So how’s the church coming along?” Kirby asked, changing the subject.

“Almost finished,” Tiny coughed.


“The Stations of the Cross is our next big job,” Father Ned said, “I want them painted, a huge mural…sort of like what you’d see in the middle ages…and that will appeal to the Hispanics as well.”

“Mural?” Jazz said.

“That’s right,” said the priest, “They’d be spectacular. If you don’t have a top-class venue today, you won’t be able to hold an audience…there’s a lot of competition out there for souls nowadays…televangelism is ruining everything. It’s a free market, especially here in California.”

“So you want to paint the Stations of the Cross?” Jazz said, offering cigarettes. Tiny and Kirby accepted, the Padre passed.

“They’re lovely painted,” he said, “and they’d be brilliant in the new place…”

“Beautiful place, you should see it,” coughed Tiny.

“I’d be interested in a painting job like that,” Jazz said.

“Really?” Father Ned said, looking closer at him.

“Yeah, I’m an artist. A painter.”

“Is that so? And have you ever done anything like this?”

“Religious work?” Jazz said. After a second he remembered, “I did a Christmas card for the Shamrock’s Football Club.”

“Was it you who did that?” said Father Ned, eyes softening, “God Almighty, that was a gorgeous depiction of the Mother and Child.”

Jazz said thanks. That little card was his first paid art work in America. Inspiration came when he saw a young Palestinian woman sip coffee in Café Nidal. He drew her as the Madonna, gave her a veil and a dimple on the cheek, and then put an infant at her breast. Kirby’s boss, O’Toole the builder, sponsored the design and paid Jazz three hundred dollars for his labor. That was four months ago and he hadn’t done much since then.

Fr Ned's Visualisaton


Jazz and Kirby rode in back of the red bus to Father Ned’s new church, located in the Berkeley foothills. Tiny said the Hazeltons, an old moneyed Catholic family who made their fortune from apple juice, had donated the site. He had often drank it and it was powerful stuff. Organic, added Father Ned, wheeling the bus up in front of the new church, a large round building with a low mushroom roof and a carrot spire. Post-modern, explained Father Ned, Von Traghad was the architect.

The doors were heavy, hammered brass and opened into a marble-floored lobby with alcoves and narrow stained glass windows. Two stone holy water fonts flanked the entrance to the church proper, and Tiny opened the doors like a bellboy. It was the oddest church Jazz was ever in and reminded him of a boxing stadium. The altar wasn’t at the head, as normal, but on a platform in the center, surrounded by circles of banked seats. Tiny pointed at the ceiling, a complicated web of timber beams and supports, with a stained glass spiral that cast colored patches of light on the altar.

“Awesome,” whispered Kirby.

“And the stations will go there,” Father Ned said quietly, pointing to a tall band of smooth plaster that circled the building, about twelve feet from the floor. He led Jazz to the wall and they both stared in silence at the blank ribbon.

“Can’t you just see Jesus up there,” whispered Father Ned, “the Crown of Thorns…Pilate…the heavy wooden cross…warm humid day in Jerusalem…the jeering crowd…that climb to Calvary.”

Jazz nodded, he could see it alright. The Padre explained Von Traghad wanted the stations to begin at the door, continue clockwise around the church in a complete circle. Jazz frowned and had a flash of Michelangelo’s anguished face gazing upside down from a scaffold.

“What’s the budget?” he asked.

“We were hoping to get it done for ten thousand…that’s what the architect estimated. That’s about what the Mexican lad would do it for. And he’s good. Does loads of murals in the Mission.”

“It’s a lot of work. When do you want it done?”

“Soon as possible…I was hoping to have the church consecrated by Papal Nuncio Mahaffy when he comes to San Francisco in May for the Bishop’s Convention.”

“But that’s only a few months away…”

“I know,” said Father Ned, “but it would be a great coup to have Mahaffy open the place…a lot of the big boys will be around for that convention. We could get a lot of mileage out of it and get our name out there in a positive way, for a change.”

Jazz looked around the church. It was years since he had done murals and he had never worked on such a large scale before. He’d chance it. Twelve feet off the ground, he’d need help with a platform and stuff.

“Tiny will look after that,” Father Ned said. “You come up with a blueprint and estimate and we’ll take it from there.”

That’s how it started.

The other J-man



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THE WEST


John O’Donoghue & The Pogues: a match made in San Francisco?

The Art of the Con

The Art of the Con

John ‘The Bull’ O’Donoghue, former Minister for the Arts, Sports and Tourism, resigned as Ceann Comhairle on the same day the Pogues played in San Francisco. Normally these two events would be mutually exclusive, but with the recession, everything is connected.

The Bull racked up a half-million euro tab over his few years as mandarin for d’Arts and had an extravagant lifestyle, at the expense of the Plain People of Ireland. A martyr for top-shelf brandy, best of wine, fatted lamb, caviar, horses, plane hops, limos, banquets, nothing was too good or too sacred for The Bull. He consumed all before him like a Pac man, while Irish artists waited for the crumbs that fell from his department. How many stories might that half-million euro have helped write? How many tunes could it have composed? How many songs could have it sung? The Bull’s expense account could have kept an artist in clover for 50 years and raised spirits in the process. Instead, it fattened himself and his herd. It’s a triumph for Irish journalism that he was exposed and forced to resign. Take a bow, Sunday Tribune but don’t rest on your laurels.

pogues_cloverA long white stretch limo was pulled at the curb outside the Pogues gig and it reminded us of The Bull and how he loved long shiny cars. We suddenly felt charitable and wondered if he should be rehabilitated rather than despised as a parasite. Then we had a brainwave: what if the Bull could drive the Pogues limo!! Maybe Shane would lend his Mexican Air Force cap to him…just while he’s behind the wheel. He could be cured. Cruising a half million miles up highways and down autobahns and boreens, the Kerryman would get plenty therapy from the lads. Plus, he’d still have a touch of the high life, he’d still be rubbing shoulders with stars and starlets…still be supping good grog, but not at the taxpayers expense. He could get really into it…maybe get promoted to roadie status.

Pogues, SF

Pogues, SF

The idea was exciting and when Mr. McGowan came onstage that night, a red plastic tumbler in each hand, we saw an expanded role for The Bull: he could be Shane’s batman!…carry the bevs for him, place them on the small table at the front of the stage and make sure to top them up now and again. He could light cigarettes for Mac…and anything else for that matter. In fact, The Bull might even test the mike for Shane. Wouldn’t it be a thrill to see him front of stage saying, “One, one, one, two, two. Check, check.” And maybe in true punk form he’d get showered with rotten tomatoes or eggs…

pogues6As the Pogues ploughed through their greatest songs in San Francisco, and Mac weaved this way and that, the idea of The Bull being part of the scene became more clear. The band might even give him a cameo part — take a bit of weight from Spider by having the Bull bang the tin beer tray against his head. And I know this is pushing it a bit, but maybe The Bull could play a bit of bodhran? On say, ‘The Irish Rover’? Would the lads let him join in the chorus? What about ‘Dirty Old Town’? Can’t you just see him on stage, belting out the refrain, sweet Cahersiveen etched on his face? Would he ever get to lash out ‘The Boys of Barr na Sráide’? His very own party piece…

On second thoughts, it may be better to keep him from the limelight for a while. It might be wiser to have him set up the backstage for the band, make sure everyone’s tastes and mores are catered for, and that there’s plenty of everything. He’d be good at that, he’s been freeloading for years and knows every rope in the book. He wouldn’t have an assistant, just an iPhone which he’d have to learn to use…there’s probably a Fás course for that. He’d have to know at any time, where drink, smoke and get-well cards could be got. And he’d have to learn to mix Tequila Dropkicks, Whiskey Windfalls and Brandy Bomb-Bombs…maybe learn how to hand-roll cigarettes. He’d get a much better education with the lads than he’d get hanging around the crowd in the Dáil bar.
IfIShould

We know it’s a privilege to work with the Pogues, and some might say that The Bull doesn’t deserve the chance. We understand all that, but feel it would be for the Greater Good, if he were rehabbed rather than punished or left to waste away on the backbenches of government. As some perverted form of entertainment, the Kerry voters will continue to return his whale carcass to the Dáil, forever more amen. It would take a few Pogues gigs to persuade them to release The Bull for the sake of art and culture. The band could play The Puck Fair, The Rose of Tralee, Listowel Races, Cahersiveen Winkle Festival. The Bull could play support for them at the ’Sive gig — it would be a perfect homecoming for the Prodigal Son.

It’s a win-win situation. The job would be good for The Bull: he’d still be flying around the place, ride limos and drink until maidin geal. He would be indentured to the Pogues. And here it should be said, the band would be better for his rehabilitation than U2. Like, Bono and The Bull could talk shite to each other all night and next morning…but there would be no shite talk with the Pogues. Everything would be straight up and politically incorrect.

The Pogues are The Bull’s only hope. And I know this is stretching it a bit far…but, what about Mrs. Bull doing a bit now and again? Remember, she was also part of his act and liked to jet away too. She’s a lovely singer and maybe she could do the female vox on Fairytale? And when Shane waltzes off stage with her, would The Bull know it’s only rock and roll? Or would he lose the head, like he did in the Dáil, and end up on YouTube again?



Pogues SF photo: Seán Chon


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Prayer saves Irishman in the Mission, San Francisco

SF Mural of the good ol' 52

SF Mural of the good ol' 52


By the time I got to San Francisco, the Mission District was no longer an Irish stronghold of the city. They had gone to the suburbs, leaving a few reminders behind — a couple of shops with Irish names, a few pubs, and a handful of tall churches.

Sunniest place in town, the Mission was densely populated. It was a muddle of old Victorian houses, laden down with Hispanic family upon family, interspersed with bohemians and aging beat poets, punks and junkies. A funky place, it was the only area in the city where you could be excused for wearing sunglasses after midnight. Spanish was the lingua franca, taco and burrito the take-away of choice. It was un-American and unpredictable, and I wasn’t sure for a while if I was culture shocked or just felt unsafe. Low rent, sporadic crime, there was a constant pulse of action: Dazzling murals, car alarms, sirens, paramedic blue noise of misfortune and the music of night buskers.

Buckers @ 25 + Mission: essence of cool

Buskers @ 25 + Mission: essence of cool


Mission Street was the main drag. Brash and dingy, the pavement was crowded and smelled of rotten fruit sometimes. More times it smelled of fish, or cheap Asian food someone had dropped. Cars hooted constantly, low cruisers with tinted windows, booming bass, and white walled tires. People shouted, trucks collided, tempers frayed. Everything was hot — the sun…the Rolex watches peddled by the men in LAPD t-shirts…bootleg tapes from Mexico, hawked by women in tight jeans. Cop cars cruised swift as sharks, did u-turns in mid-traffic to follow prey. And in the midst of this mayhem, young Guatemalan girls sold red roses and Jehovah Witnesses handed out free copies of the Watchtower. Virgins and villains, we were all fugitives in the Mission and there was camaraderie between us. After a while there, I knew all the dives, the thrift stores, the pawnshops and the cheapest markets.

Low, low, prices...

Low, low, prices...


Occasionally I’d have breakfast at Zorro’s Cantina, a small bar cum restaurant off the main drag near Shotwell and 20th. It wasn’t far from where I lived, and the grub was cheap and honest. It stayed open till 4am on the weekends and was introduced to me by my friend JC, an Irish fiddler who dropped in sometimes on the way home from sessions. The clientele was a mixture of Hispanics, scattered bohemians, a sprinkling of hookers taking a break from the action on Capp St; the occasional pimp, men on the prowl, more on the take, and fellas who looked like petty drug dealers. Nobody bothered anyone else in Zorro’s. We could be lawyers, CEOs or any white-collar workers that you’d find in an upscale bar downtown, taking a break from the fray outside the door and minding our own business. And the Latino waitresses always smiled like angels at both saints and sinners.

Over time, I got to know some of the regulars by sight and we’d nod to each other. Once or twice dealers muttered,
“Cosmos tu, amigo?”
“Bueno, bueno,” I’d say and move on down the tables, somewhat pleased that they didn’t think of me as a ‘gringo.’

I never saw any trouble in Zorro’s, but I knew it was a hot spot and shit could happen there at the drop of a fork. Once I saw a make shift grotto of flowers and candles and photos a few doors away, in memory of someone who’s life had ended at that spot.

Erin on her way to work...

Erin on her way to work...

Sometimes an undercover lady cop dropped by. I knew her slightly: an Irish American named Erin, she was in her early thirties and a big Saw Doctors fan. The first time I met her in Zorro’s, she landed at my table unannounced and said,
“Hello stranger, tu guasta bing-bong?”
She grinned, I was flummoxed, didn’t recognize her in hooker guise until she said,
“It’s Erin, the cop.”
“Oh fuck! Jesus you gave me a shock.”
“What brings you here?” she asked.
“Huevos Rancheros for $3.50. A bit of people watching.”
“Material for one of your stories? Can I be in one of your stories?”
“Maybe playing the harp, but not dressed like this.”

She told me she was doing a spot of work for the vice squad, posing as one of the Capp Street hookers. Busting the ‘johns’ or clients who came propositioning sex. There was always back up around, in case anything went wrong.
“Like,” she said, “see the guy at the counter with the ponytail? He’s watching us in the mirror. He thinks I’m gonna hook you.”

A few months later I was in Zorro’s and I saw her beside a guy who didn’t look like an undercover cop. I figured he was a ‘john’ so I passed on and settled at nearby table, my back to the wall. I had a full view of Erin and the man. It suddenly struck me that he was Irish. He had to be: the hairstyle — grey backswept curls and neck shave; the green plastic windcheater and white open neck shirt. He sat side-ways on the chair, head twisting, eyes darting around the place like a bird. He was a Paddy all right; I could see the freckles on his face, between the broken veins that came from long nights of lonesome drinking and years toiling on building sites. Not often you saw his likes in the belly of San Francisco’s barrio. Nowadays the only Irish down around here were the few invisibles like myself who lived by imagination. He was an exotic fish in these warm seas, and Erin was playing with him.

Nun at work in St. Patrick's Church, SF

St. Bridget at work in St. Patrick's Church, SF

I ordered the usual huevos rancheros, flour tortillas and coffee. The Irishman was asking Erin questions and I couldn’t get his accent until she asked what part of Ireland he was from.
“Cork.”
A Corkman in the wrong end of town, at half-eleven on a sunny Tuesday morning. I think it was for my benefit that she engaged him in a conversation about potatoes, and chatting her up must have reminded him of the old ballrooms of romance in Ireland. She wanted to be courted. And he just wanted out of there, have a spin around the block and get the business done. But she was asking questions about spuds and hurling. Now she was calling him ‘sweetie’ and stroking his hands. A waitress smiled at him, pen poised over a notebook. He ordered a Coke to get rid of her. Erin called after her and said she’d have a beer. Then I heard Corky ask,
“How much?”
I don’t know what Erin said, but I heard his reply.
“I’d have a week in Haw-Wah-Wee for that. Hah?”
“It’s worth it,” she said, “and I’m hotter than Haw-why.”

She leaned closer to him and caressed the back of his hand. He stirred in the chair, like he was doing neck exercises. I wondered if he’d go for it, and would she bust one of our own? Would she cuff him when the money changed hands? It would make a great song for the Saw Doctors. I could imagine Leo Moran singing it…

A lot of whispering went on and eventually he wilted and muttered,
“Okay. Okay. Sound. Sound so.”
He turned in the chair and clicked for the bill, which came on a red plastic plate weighed down by two white mints
“Where do I pay?” he asked rising from his seat.
“Just leave the money on the plate, honey,” Erin said.

He took out his wallet and rooted for notes. Unexpectedly, the mid-day Angelus pealed solemnly from a nearby church. The restaurant staff blessed themselves and to my utter astonishment, so did Corky. He closed his eyes, bowed his head and put away his wallet. Somehow in those twelve peals, God got a foothold. In the hum of the last chime, Corky blessed himself and fled from Zorro’s like a flash of lightening.

I looked at Erin and shook my head. She shrugged as if to say,’You win some, you lose some.’ Final score: God 1, SFPD 0.

St. Patrick's Church, Mission St, built in 1851

St. Patrick's Church, Mission St, built in 1851


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